Freejack (1992)

Freejack

This review of Freejack contains spoilers.

Mostly forgotten now, Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II)’s 1992 SF-action turkey Freejack got some attention back on its release for starring the one and only Mick Jagger. And as a twelve year old at the time the film was getting premiered on Sky’s movie channels, I was certainly interested in it because I thought the ads looked good, plus anything futuristic was always going to fascinate me after having been bowled over by Back to the Future Part II on the big screen a few years earlier. Unfortunately (or so I thought), those movie channels were out of our price range so I forgot about Freejack until it was premiered on BBC1 a few years later.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-21h39m16s600

By then I had become more aware that the film was meant to be… how can I put it… a bit shit, so I geared myself up for a bumpy ride of some sorts. I wasn’t disappointed. I mean, it’s awful, but from the moment Jagger’s bounty hunter/’bonejacker’ Victor Vacendak lifts up the future-visor on his head and says, in that unmistakable camp London accent of his, ‘Okay… let’s do it! I knew I was going to love this film.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-20h38m02s479

I had the foresight to tape Freejack at the time and made a point of rewatching it over and over again. Well, the good bits anyway. Bits of this film are really dull. But the good bits (and by that I mean the really bad bits) were pure comedy gold.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-20h42m52s870

Based on Robert Sheckley’s novel Immortality, Inc. (more on that later), Freejack is set in a future where advancements in technology have made it possible for a mind to be transplanted into another human body. Meanwhile in present-day 1992,  hot shot racing driver Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is apparently killed mid-race when his car explodes in front of his adoring fans, his adoring girlfriend Julie (Rene Russo) and his adoring agent (David Johansen from the New York Dolls!). However, he’s not really dead because he re-materialises in the year 2009, surrounded by baddies in bacofoil who are ready to lobotomise him with a freaky laser. Luckily, Furlong escapes into a dystopia where people are either living at the top in sleek, plush surroundings or at the bottom where the only things to eat are rats or soup that’s so tasty that people are willing to kill you if you spill it all over them.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-20h39m22s495

Furlong realises that he’s now a ‘freejack’, a fugitive wanted for his BODY by a mystery party. Everyone he turns to for help either betrays him or slams the door in his face, except for a gun-toting nun, aka Mother Exposition, played by Amanda Plummer a few years before she threatened to execute every motherfuckin’ person in the Big Kahuna burger joint in Pulp Fiction. It turns out there’s a thing called the Spiritual Switchboard, which is a kind of cloud where human minds can be uploaded and then downloaded into a different body. Furlong’s body appears to be hot property because it comes from a time before something called the Ten Year Depression and isn’t contaminated with all the toxins, poisons and mutations that today’s underclass have been exposed to. Ah, but why doesn’t Furlong’s mystery party just take his pick of a body from 2009’s non-toxic cultural elite?

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-20h44m30s747

Nope, it’s got to be Furlong, and the one who wants him is none other than Anthony Hopkins, who I forgot to mention in this review so far because he didn’t make much impression on the plot up until now. I’m sure he made an impression on viewers at the time – this was the first film he’d made after his award-winning performance in The Silence of the Lambs. This was not the first instance of an actor starring in a total turkey immediately after their Oscar win, and it wouldn’t be the last. It turns out his character in this – the mysterious and recently deceased tycoon McCandless who owns everything in the future and therefore was always untrustworthy – has fallen in love with Julie and of course the only way to win over someone who’s already attached is to possess the body of her boyfriend!

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-20h46m40s934

The ending was clearly this was meant to be the Ultimate Trip, the kind that would leave Kubrick whimpering. Forget 2001, this was 2009, baby! This is where Furlong and Julie enter the Spiritual Switchboard, past loads of pixels, squares, time lapse skies and altering environments, culminating in a confrontation with McCandless, who seems to be able to smoke cigars in this virtual world – how does that work? – and who also suspiciously appears to have regretted his rash decision to try and nab Furlong’s body, offering to give everything to him, his riches, his job as an apology … but we know it’s all lies and stalling, as Vacendak shows up and Furlong still ends up undergoing the old switcheroo in a sequence of, and let’s be generous, rather funny special effects that includes a trippy flashback nightmare that, like all bad dream/hallucination sequences, features not one but two random bits of people laughing wickedly.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-20h49m04s171

Weasely deputy villain Michelette (Jonathan Banks), who doesn’t want McCandless in any form to survive as that would prevent him from inheriting the company, destroys the transfer device and we’re all left wondering which mind is currently occupying the disoriented body of Furlong. Michelette has the right idea – if whoever this guy is can correctly identify McCandless’ personal security clearance number then he’s obviously the real deal. The thing is, he actually can! It must be McCandless, god damned McCandless! Michelette shakes his head in despair, laughs to himself and attempts to go out in a blaze of glory before being instantly gunned down by Vacendak.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-20h50m34s920

So Furlong’s dead, right? No. He was just guessing the security number and Vacendak went along with it because, let’s face it, nobody likes Michelette. Furlong’s a bit of a twat about it though, not telling Julie what’s happened until we the viewer also got to find out, which was a bit mean of him, stringing her along like that for what must have felt like a long few minutes. So, Furlong assures Julie that everything’s going to be alright and off they drive. In fact, his specific final line is ‘Come on, buckle up, let’s see what this baby can do!’ which is a line almost as cheesy as the one in this clip:

Haul Ass to Lollapalooza!

Cue anthemic metal from whistle-friendly favourites the Scorpions and roll those credits. Terrible ending. Saying that ‘Hit Between the Eyes’ is a fun song. I remember hearing the guitar squeals over that old Sky ad for the movie and I remember thinking this film was going to be ace.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-21h36m00s293

So, what we have here is a film that was probably the last attempt to make Emilio Estevez an action star, but he’s just not well served by the direction or the script. Also, he just doesn’t convey enough of the overwhelmed mind-scramble of what it would be like to be in a new time. Even though the Estevez smirk is almost as good a thing as the Bruce Willis smirk, he’s just too cocky here for us to really care too much. We also have future Breaking Bad legend Jonathan Banks in the role of Michelette, and compared to the dry, been-there-done-that persona of Mike Ehrmentraut, his character here is entertainingly obnoxious, stressed-out and seemingly despised by everybody. The scene where Jagger crushes a Faberge egg and chucks it over to him whilst calling him an asshole is one of the funniest in the film. Banks and Hopkins get the play-it-straight-but-chew-the-scenery-at-the-same-time thing beautifully, which can’t be said for Estevez and Russo. There’s little to no chemistry between the two, which makes their potentially thrilling, 16-year overdue catch-up a little flat. To be fair, the tragedy of their extended separation isn’t helped by the bit just as Furlong ‘dies’ when the camera rapidly zooms into Julie’s face – it’s hilarious. I think even Warners/Morgan Creek realised it was funny as early as 1993, because Brad Pitt’s waster character in True Romance is watching that exact same moment on the telly.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-21h45m06s380

But never mind that.

Let’s talk about Mick Jagger.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-21h26m16s148

Now I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan. I love their sixties stuff, I love their seventies stuff and I even like some of their eighties stuff. And I love Mick Jagger. What a frontman. I mean, there’s precious few like him. Yet there’s always been something kind of hilarious about him too. It’s that preening, camp, lip-smacking sense of mischief, right there even from the start. Like David Bowie, Nicolas Roeg found something intrinsically cinematic about him and both of them enjoyed their best big-screen performances under his wing. However, unlike Bowie, Jagger didn’t really have much of a film career afterwards. I’m not saying Bowie was a screen legend, but he also had The Hunger, Labyrinth and The Prestige among others under his belt, whereas Jagger had few other roles of note. There was Ned Kelly, and then there was Freejack.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-21h23m19s760

I love Jagger in this film – he can’t really act but he does his individual thing and he does it very entertainingly. As I’ve already mentioned, his very first line is a classic of camp delivery, but pretty much everything he says here has this kind of delightful amusement to it. How the hell do nothing lines like ‘power it up’ and ‘he’s good’, both uttered by him in the opening race sequence, end up being so gigglesome? It’s all in the execution. His best extended sequence outside of the Faberge bit is the chase scene involving the ugliest and reddest tank in history. Furlong has escaped in a car/champagne crate and Vacendak and crew are in hot pursuit. Using some kind of bluetooth connection to tap into Furlong’s car, he starts pestering his quarry throughout the car chase, and even though Furlong tries to hang up on him (leading Vacendak to hilariously exclaim ‘Oh no! I hate the dark!’) he just won’t go away. He laughs like a madman, delivers lines like ‘you can’t get rid of me that easily!’ ‘I want him without a scccraaatch!’ and ‘the brake pedal’s the one on the right’ and of course ‘DON’T DO IT!!!!’ with the kind of relish someone who actually gets paid a lot of money to say this stuff does.

MMRTLNC1959

So what about the book that Freejack was based on? I wasn’t expecting Robert Sheckley’s 1958 Immortality, Inc. to be so entertaining, but it really is a proper tear-through ride of a novel that is crammed with ideas and twists. Okay, the female characters get short shrift, but for the most part it’s great. To be honest, to adapt it faithfully might have made for a pretty crammed feature-length film, but compromises could nevertheless have been made and we could have got a striking, spectacular SF experience.

When you come down to it, Freejack is mostly a lot of chases, fights and shoot outs, only really going into overdrive (some would say for the worse) for its finale. Immortality, Inc. has a lot more fun delving into the future world that Thomas Blaine (not Alex Furlong) has found himself in. At first his arrival into the future is exploited as a publicity gimmick for the Rex Corporation (there’s no McCandless here) who want to show him off as the world’s first person to be snatched from the past and put in a new body, but is soon forgotten by the media and even his own captors once the novelty’s worn off. Instead of being a target for capture, Blaine is more or less stranded in the future in a new body and with no way to make a living… I don’t want to spoil the rest of the novel as it’s a revelation for those only aware of Freejack, but if you do get round to reading it you’ll be dazzled by how much stuff there is here. Then you think about all that could have been accomplished in adapting this novel and you see what was actually made and released in 1992 and it beggars belief. Freejack essentially adapts a tiny portion of the story – the concept of an old mind occupying a younger body and the presence of the Spiritual Switchboard – and scraps the rest. I mean, there were suicide booths in the novel! Why would you not put something like that in the film? There’s merely a small electronic billboard for ‘suicide assistance’ that you can just about make out in a couple of shots. At least Futurama recognised a great (if fucked-up) SF idea when it saw one. It’s frankly insulting to see what they’ve done to the novel. If there are better examples of just how dumb the worst of Hollywood can be in adapting other mediums, then please let me know.

Of course, there was nothing in Immortality, Inc. that was as funny as the shot below, so both have their own individual merits, I suppose.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-21h13m22s065

PS: Amazingly, one of the co-writers is Dan Gilroy, who would end up directing the terrific Nightcrawler!

PSS: Some of the main characters have alliterative names, like Victor Vacendak and Mark Michelette. Those that don’t are nonetheless played by actors with alliterative names, like Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo. The only exception is Anthony Hopkins as Ian McCandless, but given he had just won an Oscar, I suppose he could get away with it.

PSSS: two non-Jagger highlights from the tank chase scene to mention – the music by Trevor Jones here is really enjoyable, great chase music. And secondly, yes that is a sample of James Brown screaming as a pedestrian jumps out of the way. There’s a few of these in this film, but it wasn’t the first action romp to feature a Brown sample. Raw Deal did it too, spectacularly. Hit me!

PSSSS: Here’s a shot of David Johansen, simply because there hasn’t been one yet in this review.

vlcsnap-2017-05-11-21h43m05s210

 

Samurai Cop (1991)

samuraicop

Please note that none of the imagery in the above poster for Samurai Cop actually takes place in the film itself.

An astoundingly inept action thriller that’s become quite the cult favourite for how jaw-droppingly awful it is. From the sub-Streets of Rage title music onwards, there is absolutely nothing in this film that is intentionally worthwhile. Join our two McBain wannabes Joe and Frank as they take on the killer from Maniac Cop and his endless parade of disposable henchmen! Prepare your flabber to be well and truly gasted at the horrors to follow!!

Where to start?

  • Well, the dialogue appears to have been recorded with the cheapest mics available. When they do actually manage to pick up the actors’ voices, it’s usually muffled and hissy – I think there was some fluff on the mic.
  • The shooting script must have got mixed up in the post – various scenes appear to jump back and forth throughout the daytime, making it look as though the sun in this film’s world goes up and down like a fucking yo-yo.
  • The editing is horrendous – after watching this you realise that most films do indeed get the fundamentals right to the point where you sort of forget you’re watching a film. In Samurai Cop the rhythm is totally off – shots begin too early or too late, the music stops and starts intermittently and the whole thing feels like a hastily put together rough cut. The most notorious example is when the police chief gives our two ‘heroes’ a load of shit and then sits back down in his chair, after which the camera keeps rolling and the actor just starts laughing.
  • In addition to the above, the fight scenes are incompetently staged – none of the actors appear to be properly interacting with each other. Their reaction time to impending danger is so off that it’s no wonder they keep getting killed. Death throes are sometimes accompanied with unconvincing splats of blood (in one case, paintball has clearly contributed to a character’s death) but more often than not with no squibs or gore whatsoever, so all we see is a lot of writhing around with no apparent physical trauma.
  • There are three ‘love’ scenes that are some of the most inert and unerotic ever staged for a film. We’re talking fast-forward fodder that’s on the level of The Room here, people.
  • The acting is hopelessly stilted and off-key. The director seems to be insisting that when not speaking, his actors must be posing awkwardly, either by leaning on banisters or perching one of their legs on steps or chairs to try and look casual.
  • The dialogue is very poor – the intentionally comic scenes (the camp restaurant waiter, the nods to the fact that Frank is black, the ‘would you like to fuck me?’ bit) feel very awkward, while the overheated confrontation scenes are hilariously stilted. The best example of this is Joe’s threat to the criminals at the dinner table.
  • The plot is complete bobbins – plot holes, illogical behaviour, unrealistic physical attraction between characters… it’s all here. My favourite is when Frank protests to Joe about the killing of the big bad guy (‘stop it, you’re a cop!’) even though the both of them have murdered at least a thousand criminals over the last 90 minutes. Bit late to develop a conscience there, mate.
  • This film features the most passionless, bored delivery of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song in cinema history.

Of course, I really enjoyed this film for the most part – there are plenty of dull bits but there are also loads of moments to laugh yourself silly to. Whether its Joe and Frank’s mild irritation at running over a bad guy with their car (‘oh, man!’, indeed), Matt Hannon’s occasional (and obvious) dependence on a wig (he had to come back for additional filming after he’d slashed his locks) or the little mad touches (why do the bad guys have a Defender arcade cabinet in their flat?) – it’s a proper chuckle. It’s also one of the worst films ever made.

Oh, and by the way, here’s some choice dialogue snippets:

LAWYER: ‘I’ll see you in court!’
POLICE CHIEF: ‘You motherfucker, I’ll see you in hell!’

and:

JOE to FRANK: [on discovering a mid-level bad guy smooching naked with his girlfriend] ‘Looks like this is his last FUCK!’

MULLETED VILLAIN: ‘I want his head on this piano!’
MANIAC COP: ‘I will bring you his head, and I will place it on this piano.’

Ghostbusters (2016)

Don’t believe the bad hype. It’s alright!

Ghostbusters

When future generations look back on this time – our time – and they think of Ghostbusters, we all want them to think of the wonders of the original 1984 film, the underrated wonders of the second and the animated wonders of the cartoon (at least before it was ruined by meddling execs), don’t we? A fine legacy, right? But nooooooooooo, Hollywood had to spoil everything by re-BOOTing the damn thing, so now when future generations look back on Ghostbusters, they may very well think of this new version before the old one, the old one which we took to our hearts and still love decades later. Sacriliege! Well, it would be sacriliege if the film was crap.

Which it isn’t.

I’ll admit, the news of a Ghostbusters reboot filled with me fear. Reboots, remakes and remodels have a very patchy success rate in this day and age. Legacys spoiled and whatnot. The fourth Indiana Jones film is probably the most saddening example of this, all the more baffling because it was the original director responsible for such dirty soilage. I’m a child of the 1980s – I may have been too young to experience the fruits of the ‘Second Golden Age of Hollywood’ (as Homer Simpson puts it) at the cinema, but home video and TV viewing meant I devoured a lot the classics anyway, and yes, these films turned out to be very special for a lot of us. When news of a remake arrives, it’s usually accompanied with a groan. Remember when Poltergeist got remade a year or so ago? Somehow we all knew it wasn’t going to be that great, and apparently it wasn’t. I never watched it, but I never heard a good word about it, and as such, didn’t bother. By that time I had been fed up of giving remakes/reboots a chance when they usually turned out to be either rubbish (The Omen, The Wicker Man) or just meh (Robocop, The Thing), so the likes of Evil Dead, Elm Street, Total Recall, Point Break and whatnot were simply ignored by this good reviewer. Not from sheer ignorant obstinance, but because I do take film critics seriously – when they were saying the film in question wasn’t much cop, I took their word for it, and for the most part, they were right. Sometimes I’d catch up with a particular remake and realise that I should have given it a chance, but those are the risks you take, I suppose. At the same time I remain soberly cynical about future remakes in the pipeline (Big Trouble in Little China, for example) because I’ve been burned before and I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. I won’t be picketing the studios or trolling on Twitter though, because that’s just mean.

Why? Because in the end, none of these remakes or reboots ruined my childhood. They just ruined my evening, that’s all. The originals were still there, and yes, it was painful at the time to see these inferior versions claim the limelight over the original for that brief moment when it was released and were publicised, but mostly they faded into obscurity. Why? Because they weren’t any good. If they did latch on to the public consciousness, it was probably because they did have something to offer, and I’m all for that. If a remake or a reboot is great, then what are we complaining about? The first two Bale/Nolan Batman films, the Planet of the Apes films are two examples of reboots that have worked spectacularly well. And you know what? The older films are still there to be enjoyed and savoured. Living together in perfect harmony and whatnot.

The news of a Ghostbusters remake however, turned out to be the Last Straw in the eyes of those who feel all originals should be left alone. I’ll admit, my first reaction was that of jaded pessimism – the director Paul Feig, had made Bridesmaids, a funny-but-not-that-funny comedy that seemed to get a freer than usual pass because of the all too rare occurrence of a high-profile comedy with a predominantly female cast. I felt it suffered from the same Judd Apatow problem of a comedy that was too long, too baggy and in sore need of an editor. Oh well though, we’ll see what happens, I suppose. For some though, the news of a Ghostbusters reboot was just too much – I hadn’t really been paying attention to much of the backlash because I can’t be arsed to be drawn into the hype of upcoming films years before they actually come out, I just want to concentrate on the films that are out now instead. I was aware that some (but certainly not all) of the backlash was focused on the fact that the new film would feature four women as the Ghostbusters – on one level I couldn’t give two hoots who were in the roles as long as they were good, but then I realised that given women get such a crap deal in blockbusters, the decision to make it female-led felt necessary. I wanted to like the film almost instantly for having the… er, balls (okay, let’s go with ovaries) to go ahead with a decision.

Now, the notion of re-doing Ghostbusters didn’t seem quite as up there with so-far unpromised notions of Jaws and Back to the Future, but still it seemed wrong to me. Even talk of a third Ghostbusters film that would have been a sequel to the first two was in the skies for a long time, and that got my alarms ringing too. Just leave it alone, I thought. Yet when I could be bothered to give it some thought, I realised the idea wasn’t bad at all. Ghostbusters had always been more of a thing than a cast-in-stone classic, potentially very adaptable and ripe for expansion.

Then the trailer came along.

It was crap, wasn’t it? I mean, its eventual distinction of being the most unpopular film trailer ever on Youtube was most likely part of the conspiracy by disgruntled fans to purposefully get it there because they were so pissed off by the sheer notion of a Ghostbusters reboot. I believe that some of the impetus of that conspiracy was fuelled by misognyny, but I stress, I don’t believe that it was purely fuelled by that – there are lot of fans out there who simply have had their fill of mediocre-to-crap reboots. However, let’s not forget that it wasn’t a good trailer, was it? It wasn’t funny, the ghosts looked dodgy, the reworking of the theme tune sounded rubbish and some of the dialogue sounded cringey. Then there was the fact that the film had resorted to having a black character as the one non-professional all over again. The treatment of Ernie Hudson’s Winston character, acceptable-ish in the first one given that it was an expository film, not so much at all in the established sequel, was a sad example of sidelining the black character in mainstream Hollywood. It seemed like the new film was repeating the mistake, and even compounding it by emphasising the whole ‘shouty-sassy’ stereotype. And regardless of who was saying it, that whole ‘THE POWER OF PATTY COMPELS YOU!’ gag was just awful – this was one of the big jokes? Riffing off a film that came out before the original Ghostbusters came out?

Another, slightly better received trailer came along, and the best I could say about it was that it was alright. It honestly should have been the first trailer, even if it would have still lambasted simply for being a new Ghostbusters promo. Right up until last week, I was ambivalent – probably unlikely to see it unless the reviews were great. And you know what? They were! That was enough for me. Pretty much across the spectrum – great. Not even any two-star reviews! Threes and fours everywhere! Sold. I was still prepared not to be blown away – the other Feig film I had seen since Bridesmaids – 2015’s Spy – suffered from the same problems as that earlier film. Too bloody long, and too baggy, though with plenty of belly laughs, so good enough.

My opinion? It’s good!

It’s not great, but it is good.

I don’t love it as much as the original. Okay, okay, what a ridiculous thing for me to say. I’ve lived with the original since I saw it on its Christmas TV premiere back in 1987. I’ve only lived with the new film for 24 or so hours. How can it stand up to that? I also don’t love it as much as the wildly underrated Ghostbusters II, but again, that one’s been in my life since I saw it at the cinema as an eight year old back in 1989. Those two films are a special part of my life, and they always will be. Maybe this new one will be a special part of lots of other lives, and that’s a good thing. I’ve had my childhood classics – let the kids have theirs. Anyway, I’m going to avoid comparisons with the old films as best as I can, even though the film is having plenty of fun doing that itself.

The four Ghostbusters are the hoping-to-be-tenured university teacher Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig – playing it sweet and straight) who wants to bury her past as a co-author of a ‘ghosts are real’ tome lest it ruin her reputation, her former creative partner but still true-believer Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy – endearingly enthusiastic) who wants the book to reach an audience so she can pay the bills, her eccentric current partner in science Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon – live-wire), and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones – warm and engaging) who encounters a ghost at work and wants in on the action.

The plot to the new one is similar enough in that we have four ghostbusters busting ghosts in New York, culminating in a big showdown, but how it gets there is refreshing enough to deliver some surprises. For instance, we actually have a human antagonist named Rowan who is deliberately unleashing the supernatural in the city, an underused but effective turn by Neil Casey as a social misfit who’s tired of being the underdog. The presence of ghosts is established and seemingly popularised instantly, but is thwarted by the Mayor (Andy F****n’ Garcia!) who wants to keep all of this hush-hush so as not to panic the city. However, Rowan’s plan to bring about spectral chaos becomes too immense to contain, leading to an all-out explosion of ghostly shenanigans, and to quote the second film, when shit happens, who you gonna call?

Okay, the good stuff – the new Ghostbusters are fine. There’s an easy-going, natural chemistry between them and they all get a chance to shine. It’s early days, and new characters take getting used to, so it’s too soon for me to say how well this new team works, but early signs are promising I really do hope this film gets a sequel to enhance all of this. Wiig and McCarthy are effortlessly funny and have a good, believable friendship going on between them. The obvious stand out turn is from McKinnon, with her (animated version) Egon-style haircut and infectiously gleeful performance providing much of the film’s energy. Jones, despite being responsible for the trailer’s worst bit, is also funny. These are funny people. I like them. They work well together. Enough said. The thing is, these characters are literally female of course, but their femaleness is not the be all and end all – they’re regular people, regular characters, certainly not sexualised or solely defined by their gender. We’re not talking about four Lara Crofts or male fantasy stereotypes here. For that the film and all involved should be congratulated. It’s so depressing that in this day and age, there are no female-led adventure/action films. It’s just a given that the women are sidelined or their ‘strength’ is boiled down to their ability to be able to give as good as the guys when it comes to a punch-up. This needs to be rectified. Ghostbusters is a start.

What else? Well, despite fearing that it all looked a bit too much like Luigi’s Mansion for the Nintendo Gamecube in the trailers, the vividly colourful look of the ghosts is actually quite cool in the film itself. Some of the ghosts look great, especially a short-lived but properly creepy mannequin ghost half-way through. Supporting performances are excellent, especially Chris Hemsworth as the ladies’ secretary, who may very well be the stupidest on-screen character since Brick in Anchorman. It’s wonderful to see Garcia back on the big screen, and his reaction to being called the worst thing a Mayor could ever be called is priceless. Charles Dance also has a cool, brief appearance near the start. Unlike Feig’s earlier works, the film is not too long. It’s just right. That will probably change when the extended cut arrives on home video, but hopefully the new stuff will add rather than subtract from the film’s impact.

Okay, the not so good stuff. It’s not scary. Oh, how I wish it could have been scary. It’s a film about ghosts! Bring on the fear! I’m not talking hardcore horror – it’s a family film (crack jokes not withstanding) after all, but aside from the occasional very mild spooky bit, I don’t see this one giving children nightmares. What? Giving children nightmares? How horrible! That’s right! Scary kids films are the best! The lack of fear means the big ending, as fun as it is, lacks any kind of real dramatic weight. Okay, I’m going to bring up the original here – the first one had the kind of serious scares that were thrilling to a younger viewer – entry-points to more adult horror, for sure. Stuff like the demon in the fridge, any of the terror dog bits, and yes, the librarian at the start. They counter-balanced the humour beautifully and both elements enhanced each other. There was a real sense of escalating tension in the first one, but here it all just kind of cruises in medium-gear.

Now to some of the humour. Now this film is funny (though not as witty as the originals), but the film seems to be too aware that it’s being funny, if you know what I mean? I understand it must be difficult to rein in your enthusiasm when you’re making a film like this, but there was a bit too much of an ‘awesome!’ vibe that sometimes left me cold, and ‘awesome!’ is an exclamation I could happily do without hearing in any film, ever, from now on. It’s been said that the enjoyment of a film is in inverse proportion to the enjoyment the actors had making it, and while that’s a severe test, it’s true that sometimes watching actors get off on their own jokes can get a bit annoying. Having Hemsworth dance through the end credits is an example of such overkill, I thought. However, such self-indulgent stuff really worked in Ghostbusters II because the actors had pretty much earned the right to have a laugh, riff and enjoy themselves because we’d all been through the first film together and it was like a wonderful reunion of some sorts. The guys had already proved their worth in the first one, and they could afford to be a lot more easy-going, self-reflexive and naturally hilarious as a result. I think we could have saved the indulgences of this new Ghostbusters film for its sequel, which, I repeat, I hope we do get. We have a good thing going here. It could be a great thing.

Also, the cameos. The best one is the homage to Harold Ramis, seen near the start. I thought that was wonderful. The others range from slightly awkward (Bill Murrary), cute (Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson) to just baffling (Sigourney Weaver). Oh yeah, Slimer is back too, with a girlfriend. How does that work? In fact, I don’t want to know. I think the film could have done without these appearance to be honest. They just distract. And yes, the new takes on the theme are not great. That was always going to be a tough one, to be fair.

So speaking as someone who rates Ghostbusters as one of his favourite films, who adores the first two seasons of the cartoon version and who thinks that Ghostbusters II is probably the most underrated sequel ever, this new one is a welcome addition to the canon. Compared to what has preceeded it, it falls short, but on its own terms it is most enjoyable. Go for it.

PS: I can never be bothered with star ratings and whatnot, but to counteract the suspiciously low rating on the Internet Movie Database, I assigned it the mark I felt it deserved. 6/10.

Death Wish 3 (1985)

Hilarious trash – one of the best bad movies ever made!

Death_Wish_3_Poster

Paul Kersey is back! Charles Bronson is back! Michael Winner is back! Golan and Globus are back!

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h30m13s661

Three films into the Death Wish series, and Michael Winner has finally succeeded in creating an entirely fantastic world of magic unrealism, avant-garde logic and outrageous madness. Nothing here resembles reality. Of course the first film remains the best, but nothing else in the series matches Death Wish 3 for sheer hilarity. It is so far beyond mere rubbish, occupying a realm of wonderful badness that makes it one of the all-time best worst films. After this, Winner bailed on the series and it became just another shit low-rent franchise, but for one glorious moment, everything clicked. Unlike the leering grotesqurie of the second film, which took the grimly effective horror of the first film and ramped it up to hideously exploitative levels, Death Wish 3 is so silly, so funny and so over the top that it doesn’t leave that same nasty taste in the mouth that #2 did. Oh, of course there’s an obligatory rape scene (why, Winner, why?) but luckily it’s over before we know it and everything else is just flat-out, unrelentingly, wonderfully awful.

Well, I say everything else…. I’ll be honest, the first hour or so is decidedly patchy – there are lots of amazingly awful moments, but lots of bits that are just dull. Let me pick out the best bits of the first two thirds before we concentrate properly on the unparalleled, extended brilliance of the final twenty minutes. The first hour or so is essentially just a random mish-mash of scenes depicting the anarchy of the tenements, Kersey taking out the odd bad guy and chief criminal Fraker getting more and more infuriated with the whole thing.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h38m02s492

The opening beating/murder of Charley, Paul’s old war buddy. Obviously I don’t condone violence towards the elderly, or anyone for that matter, but the line ‘It’s collection time…CHARLEY! Collection…TIME!’ is the first indication that this film’s going to be something special. Plus, like Jeff Goldblum and Laurence Fishburne before him, we get to see poor Alex Winter become the third actor in a row to tarnish his early CV with a misguided appearance in a grimy vigilante exploitation flick. He’s one of a few hilariously camp looking ‘gang members’ in this opening, one of whom is The Giggler –  more of him later. By the way, this scene follows an opening credit sequence that boasts the most horrible jazz funk bollox music score imaginable. The credits say that the music was composed by Jimmy Page. Yes, that genius from Led Zeppelin. A lot of the music is simply recycled from the second one, including Page’s awesome ‘growling’ theme, which as I mentioned in my old review of DW2, was the only legitimately excellent thing in that film.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h40m33s267

More violence towards the elderly, this time merely hinted at – when total wrong ‘un Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy, son of The Old Man from RoboCop!) is prevented from killing Kersey in prison during a punch-up, yet he parts with these words – ‘I’m gonna kill a little old lady, just for you. Catch it on the six o’ clock news!’ We never do get to see that all-important bulletin. Additionally, Fraker’s absolutely horrendous haircut has often been referred to as a ‘reverse Mohawk’, and it’s difficult to better that description. He later has some painted stripes on his forehead – you know, because he’s in a gang, and they’re a kind of tribe, I suppose.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h43m55s685

Kersey takes on two hoodlums outside the tenement. He’s a little bit narked off to begin with, his dinner having already been interrupted by the sound of them trashing a car. He goes out to see what all the fuss is about. What’s going on, he asks? With what, they respond? With the car! What does it fuckin’ look like they’re doing? They’re stealing the fuckin’ car, so get out of their fuckin’ faces! ‘BUT IT’S MY CAR!’ Kersey delightfully reveals with all the sleight of hand of a peak-form magician. The two hoodlums laugh. ‘Now you gonna die!’ one of them says. All of a sudden Kersey produces a CANNON of a gun and blows them both away. Now I’m not saying that Kersey’s racist (the film certainly isn’t – all races are capable of being scumbag criminals if the diversity of the gang are anything to go by), but he does kill the unarmed black guy before he kills the white one with the knife. Just sayin’.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h46m14s172

Poor Mr and Mrs. Rodriguez (the latter played by future Deanna Troi, Martina Sirtis) are just trying to get home with their shopping. But this total dickhead gang member is on their case asking for five dollars. To be fair, he does say ‘lend’, so for all intents and purposes he is going to pay them back. Still, his approach is very aggressive, especially when he shouts ‘LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS…. SUCKA!!!’, whilst winking at one of his dickhead gang member buddies. When the verbal thing doesn’t work, Mr. Rodriguez is knocked over, but just like magic, Kersey appears out of nowhere (he does this a fair bit whenever a random crime is occurring) and punches the dickhead slam in the face. Instead of taking on this 70 year old, the dickhead simply runs away. Some young lad watching the event is well impressed with this, shouting his approval and giving Kersey the thumbs up. Kersey responds in kind, and it’s here that we know that Charlie is truly down with the kids.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h47m19s949

After the rotten and box-ticking ugliness of the rape scene (inflicted upon poor Mrs. Rodriguez), her husband and Kersey learn of the attack over the phone, after which they head on over to the hospital. However, events have spiralled further downwards far more rapidly than anyone expected, as the doctor breaks the news that ‘Mrs. Rodriguez has expired’, which makes her sound like a bottle of milk! I know expired and death are the same kind of thing, but come ON, you do not break that kind of news with that kind of terminology. Kersey’s protestation of ‘but she only had a broken arm!’ is more icing on this spectacularly misjudged cake of a scene.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h48m19s884

The death of The Giggler, a thief who can outrun anyone and has a tendency to break out in fits of amusement, is a most welcome moment. Kersey acts as bait, draping a very expensive looking camera over his shoulder (and eating an ice cream for extra innocuousness), the sight of which The Giggler can’t believe. He snatches the camera and runs off, giggling, but there’s no way he can outrun Kersey’s speeding bullet, which gets him right in the back, killing him. The crowd start cheering. After which, we cut to Fraker and his gang. ‘They killed The Giggler man… THEY KILLED THE GIGGLER!’ protests a lackey. ‘They had no business doing that. None’, Fraker insists. Er, what? Was there a verbal contract going on here? Looks like the good people have crossed the line with that act, I suppose.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h50m27s341

Again, not a very nice scene, but utterly hilarious in the scheme of things. Kersey has just had sex (off screen, but still – bleurgh) with the token love interest (after having chicken for dinner, which Kersey likes), but in Death Wish world, this act of outrageous transgression means she’s marked for death, and what do you know, not long after she’s punched out cold at the wheel of her car, which is left to career down a hill and blow up! Kersey, like he did with his family before, looks only mildly inconvenienced by this turn of events. At least it means he can get on with the ending (his preferred kind of climax, to be fair) without distraction.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h27m25s711

So now we’re at the final 20 minutes, which are as gloriously awful as you could hope a closing, extended orgy of violence could be. Only Commando rivals it for sheer glee, but Commando is ultimately a much, much better film than this. Which makes this ending all the more hilarious. I think. Kersey’s woman is dead. Some of the poor tenants have been murdered. Then there’s no-bullshit police chief Shriker, played by 80’s mainstay Ed Lauter (no one does grump better than him, except Paul Gleason), who doesn’t give a shit how many bodies are wasted on the road to peace, serenity and peaceful serenity, just so long as they get there, and he’s secretly backing Kersey’s destructive vengeance mission.

So here we go: Kersey gets some serious lethal firepower (through the mail!), which includes an anti-tank/anti-personnel rocket launcher! He loads up with bullets, gets the bereaved (but strangely upbeat, considering) Mr. Rodriguez to tag along, and word of this reaches Fraker, who calls up what I suppose must be some kind of local criminal loan agency – he requests ‘more guys, as many as you can spare me’.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h22m46s096

Before you know it, there’s a small country’s worth of cannon fodder in town, and they’re kicking the townspeople around (quite literally – one poor sap gets a boot right on the bum), stealing their groceries (paper, not plastic), dancing on their cars, cleaning their own teeth with loaded guns (idiots)  and trashing the buildings, but Kersey wastes no time in producing a massive automatic gun and, with Rodriguez providing bullets, kills about thirty people in as many seconds! Cue much OTT death throes, which I have to give the actors proper credit for given they’ve not been given any blood squibs to work with. Look, you can clearly see there are no impact wounds – I hate this in films, it just takes you out of the film immediately. You can tell it’s just a bunch of actors camping it up, giving it their best Hamlet. Why Winner would hold back on the violence in this bit is a mystery, given that it seems to be what’s getting him off. The squibs come back later on though.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h26m29s734

Also, the word ‘motherfucker’ is heard a lot during these scenes – I’m sure it’s even the same vocal snippet of the word repeated over and over again. By the way, look at Rodriguez’s facial expressions compared to Kersey’s. One of them is trying to act. One of them isn’t.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h20m25s760

The outside carnage provides much amusement for those trapped in the tenements – one of the neighbours is delighted that someone’s taking out ‘the creeps’. Later on they watch the carnage on the telly with great amusement, as though they’re watching You’ve Been Framed or something. Former good actor Martin Balsam, who plays one of the neighbours, even yelps ‘oh boy!’ like an excited schoolboy upon witnessing one of many explosions. Some of the residents are this close to breaking out into an impromptu street party after successfully killing a bunch of bikers with one of those chains tied between two lampposts. Seriously, they start dancing!

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h50m20s759

Before those bits though, a nearby car load of hoodlums are blasted to bits by Kersey and Rodriguez, and at last we get some much needed realism in the form of impact shots, which brings the grittiness back to proceedings and then some.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h34m55s780

More bad guys/target practice show up, blow up some more buildings. The carnage here is definitely depicted as fun – we don’t know these people, or these random buildings, so let’s just get off on all the chaos! Blow up that car! Blow up that shop! Smash those windows! Set that guy on fire! Okay, that last one’s not very nice, but there you go. The shaky camerawork and wonky zooms only add to the all-over-the-place approach. One in every five deaths depicted here is accompanied by a hilariously graceless rapid camera zoom, and it’s these deaths that are the best. Not to mention the deaths that send the victim through whatever window or door they’re standing in front of. Or the ones that send them off buildings or stairwells. Kersey is soon introduced in one shot with his gun protruding from around a corner, and if that isn’t the most blatant cock-metaphor in cinema history, then I haven’t seen the one that is. Kersey gets shot a few times in the gut without realising, because you know, he’s wearing a bullet proof vest! That’s how those things work – you don’t feel a thing! The police and local fire services are on the scene to try and control some of this madness, but the bad guys are everywhere – a tasteless bit follows where a woman is dragged out half naked by a bunch of scumbags just to we can get some nudity in on the scene, but thankfully this bit is cut short as Kersey shows up and blows them away. Such is the power of his gun that when he shoots one of the would-be rapists, the guy actually is sent flying forwards. Fraker’s not present at that moment though, he’s too busy having a whale of a time killing the good guys. I mean, look at that grin. It’s so oily you could fry bacon with it.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h43m28s893

I shouldn’t laugh at the scene that I’m about to describe but I can’t help it. An elderly couple are in their house, but they’re forced out when Fraker and Co. throw a bunch of molotov cocktails through the window, which leads to them running outside – on fire – after which Fraker kills them with a machine gun. God, that doesn’t sound funny at all, does it? I guess it’s the way you tell it, in which case Winner is a master comedian. What is definitely, no-two-ways-about -it funny are the few scenes where various hapless goons try to break into some houses and suffer the consequences. One guy falls victim to a plank with a knife in it which hits him right in the face (think an X-rated Home Alone), resulting in him falling backwards and off the stairwell (natch), and another guy gets far more than he bargained for when, after climbing in through the window, a panicked woman blasts him out of the house with a shotgun, screaming as she does so!

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h04m36s988

More deaths, more priceless Rodriguez reactions, more appalling attempts to kill Kersey and more smashing through windows follow, and the film has hit a shit hot streak (emphasis on shit) that should have you as gleeful as one of the tenement residents. I have rarely laughed so much at people getting killed on screen. Bill from Bill and Ted gets killed when Shriker deus ex machinas his way into the scene when neither Bill or Kersey are looking. After this bit, the soundtrack goes all ‘Edge of Seventeen’/’Bootylicious’ for just a few seconds, and the film almost becomes cool. But then it doesn’t. With Rodriguez off to get some more ammo, we get a proper Wild West bit where Kersey and Shriker walk down the streets killing people left, right and centre.

The final confrontation between Kersey and Fraker turns me into The Giggler just thinking about it. First of all the music keeps going back to this silly little melody that sounds like someone tapping on a Xylophone randomly. Kersey briefly decamps to one of the flats to get some ammo, only for Fraker to sneak in through the window, but before he can do any killing, Shriker shows up and and shoots him, but not before taking a hit in the arm himself. Kersey gets a few bullets in Fraker too, for good measure. Of course, Fraker isn’t really dead, for that would be an appalling waste of celluloid for Winner, so he has him open his eyes whilst Kersey and Shriker talk shop.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h11m26s948

Fraker lurches up and reveals that he was wearing a protective vest (‘Bulletproof! Just like yours, asshole!’) which, like Kersey’s recent experience, seems to have not affected him in the slightest. So, Fraker has the gun, but like Shriker says, he can’t take on both of them; they’re too far apart for him to shoot them together. ‘Bet me!’, Fraker dares, moving the gun from Kersey to Shriker – there’s actually a good shot (the first and last in the film), where the camera is at Fraker’s hip and travels with the gun as it is aimed from one person to another. However, in that split second, Kersey produces THE ROCKET LAUNCHER and FUCKIN’ EXPLODES Fraker right there in the room, blowing out the wall in the process. Before his death, Fraker gets a wonderful zoom right into his horrified face, an expression that should be burned into the retinas of all self-respecting cineastes. It’s something (well, it’s exactly) like this.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h16m31s080

Oddly, when Fraker’s girlfriend sees the explosion, she screams – it’s as though she just knows he’s been killed, even though there was no way for her to know this. But fuck it, she knows somehow. With him dead, the gang admit defeat in an instant, doing a pouty retreat that’s so mannered it’s almost like a music video. With that, Kersey plans to walk the earth once more until Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, which wasn’t directed by Winner and is therefore a Loser in the franchise. There is a funny bit in that film where a table full of crooks blow up but before they do they are quickly replaced with a bunch of distinctly un-human looking dummies that linger just a little too long on screen for us to believe that the characters really died. If you can believe it, the guy on the left is meant to represent Danny Trejo.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h19m11s989